Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Mary Ellen Brooks

Eldridge Cleaver the Counter-Revolutionary


First Published: Literature & Ideology, No. 6, 1970.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The storm of Afro-American struggle taking place within the U.S. is a striking manifestation of the comprehensive political and economic crisis now gripping U.S. imperialism. It is dealing a telling blow to U.S. imperialism, which is beset with difficulties at home and abroad.

In discussing the present level of struggle within the Afro-American movement itself it is necessary to follow the guideline of Mao Tsetung Thought and begin by drawing certain distinctions. “Draw two lines of distinction. First, between revolution and counter-revolution, between Yenan and Sian. . . . Secondly, within the revolutionary ranks it is necessary to make a clear distinction between right and wrong, between achievements and shortcomings and to make clear which of the two is primary and which secondary.” The first type of distinction must be made between the Black Panther Party and their current misleader, that favorite of the mass-media, Eldridge Cleaver. The Black Panther Party represents genuine opposition to U.S. imperialism and stands for violent struggle against repression. Cleaver, in his careerist activities, his sexist ideology, his anti-communism, and his opportunist establishment connections clearly belongs in and serves the forces of counter-revolution.

When did this self-styled revolutionary first announce his presence to the Afro-American masses? In fact he never did; he was, instead, discovered by his lawyer, by revisionist party opportunists promoting black culture, and by Paul Jacobs, one of the contributing editors of Ramparts. This took place while Cleaver was serving a prison sentence for assault. Jacobs immediately recognized Cleaver’s counterrevolutionary potential and began, in June, 1966, to feature him regularly in the muck-raking bourgeois magazine. Before long Cleaver gained a contract with McGraw-Hill for his book Soul On Ice, and upon his release from prison his name immediately appeared on the masthead of Ramparts as a staff writer. By February, 1968, Cleaver appeared as a Senior Editor with ambitions, as he announced recently to Lee Lockwood, reaching even higher: “I think that if I had stayed in Babylon I might have become the editor-in-chief.”

This petty-bourgeois ambition is not at all inconsistent with his other activities during these years. Briefly, Cleaver promoted a Black Arts house in San Francisco, played at reviving the Organization of Afro-American Unity, took a clue from Ramparts staff to promote a connection with the Black Panther Party, and ran as a presidential candidate (seeking Jerry Rubin as running mate) for the reactionary Peace and Freedom Party. U.S. imperialism–for which he substitutes the Biblical nickname “Babylon”–was beginning to be good to Eldridge Cleaver. The ruling class needs and has always promoted arch-misleaders, and while consolidating his position in the Black Panther Party where he could do the most harm, Cleaver developed his criminal and reactionary analysis of imperialist society:

I have always said that the basic problem in America is confusion. I know I am an American; I am an Afro-American, which means that I’m Afro and I’m American. I know the American people, and I know the ideals that are instilled in one. I know how they are imbedded in the heart, you see. You have to look at the process of the formation of the American character structure, look at the children in American grammar schools, the high schools and look at the ideals that are implanted in them there. The children of America are the ones I consider to be the citizens of the American dream. First this foundation, all these ideals–the Bill of Rights, the Constitution and the Rights of Man, the Lord’s Prayer, all of these things that no one can really attack, these things that have inspired people everywhere–are implanted in the hearts and minds of the children of America. (Conversations With Eldridge Cleaver, 1970)

Cleaver can, if he wishes, look at these racist and imperialist documents and applaud their criminal inculcation in the schools of the nation, but in so doing he reveals his bourgeois-serving aims. He flies directly in the face of the real experience of the revolutionary and heroic American people who have resolutely rejected those earliest systematizations of capitalism’s decadent ideology of parasitism and direct oppression.

Unlike Malcolm X. whom he slanders by claiming him as his model, Cleaver was a criminal when he left prison. Whether he is at large in Cuba or Algiers, he remains a criminal to the extent that he misrepresents and attempts to subvert the just and valiant struggle of the Afro-American peoples against the fascist attacks of U.S. imperialism.

A close examination of his mystical and irrational public documents–both the “best sellers” and the Ramparts and Guardian articles and stories–will show no evidence of Cleaver’s self-touted development as a Marxist-Leninist. He was and is today a devout anti-communist. In Soul On Ice (1968) it is of the blatant variety, trying to replace class analysis with a psychological analysis of his own based on sexuality:

Man’s continual striving for a Unitary Sexual Image which can only be achieved in a Unitary Society, becomes a basic driving force of the Class struggle, which is, in turn, the dynamic of history. The quest for the Apocalyptic Fusion will find optimal conditions only in a Classless Society, the absence of classes being the sine qua non for the existence of a Unitary Society in which the Unitary Sexual Image can be achieved.

Cleaver’s most recent version of this counter-revolutionary anti-communism reaches a less metaphysical level. He disapproves of and is disappointed in all existing socialist countries which in one way or another all fail to measure up to his exacting standards. He surveys the world’s socialist countries and comes up with the response that “You must understand that Marxism has never really been given a chance in this world. Every country that has tried to establish a socialist system has been a country under siege.” Thus, according to this self-appointed political theorist, neither The People’s Republic of China, nor the People’s Republic of Albania, nor the USSR under the brilliant leadership of Great Lenin and Stalin have in fact given Marxism a chance. Just what is it that makes these successful revolutions inappropriate for America to follow? In Cleaver’s analysis, he reveals his true colors by parroting the imperialists’ claim that whatever goes on in America is wholly unique. America is a totally different level of experience. “Everything that happens in the U.S. happens on a level far beyond what’s happening in the rest of the world. Take poverty for instance. Poverty in the U.S. cannot be talked about in the same sense that poverty can be talked about in India.”

This shrill chauvinist insistence on the uniqueness and specialness of everything American is one of the dominant chords echoed again and again in Cleaver’s recent interview in Algiers with Lee Lockwood. For instance, he takes a cue from the proponents of personal liberation such as Mailer and Jerry Rubin to stress the importance of consciousness in a reactionary way, giving it a special red, white, and blue isolation:

... I believe that consciousness is very important at this point. And I believe that consciousness has been expanded in the USA beyond the consciousness possessed by any other people on the face of the planet Earth.

According to Cleaver, U.S. imperialism–when he dares to weakly use this scientific term–is really only a temporary aberration in American history. In saying so he slanders the blood sacrifices of the hundreds and thousands of Afro-Americans who have dared to struggle resolutely against U. S. imperialism since it first sought to enslave and utilize them in one of its first manifestations of slavery. Cleaver insists that there is no real oppression in the U.S. nor could there ever be since this would be against the American grain. “A lot of other countries, particularly those that have become communist have not had a history of democracy as we have known it in the U.S.” As a Black American in the twentieth century, whom can he possibly be speaking for when lie speaks of “we” having a history of democracy in the U.S.? Certainly he cannot be speaking for black people: their valiant and bloody history reveals no signs of the enjoyment of democratic rights. In an imperialist society the only class to enjoy democratic rights is the big bourgeoisie and those members of the petty-bourgeoisie which most resolutely and consciously serve imperialist interests.

In all the promotion of Eldridge Cleaver in the bourgeois media, the most outstanding was the March 13, 1969 article in the Wall Street Journal. It shows perfectly how his blend of slanderous sexology, virulent anti-communism and rabid chauvinism serve the interests of the big bourgeoisie in U.S. imperialist society. “Cleaver recognizes that the American social organism is very durable and that no one is about to storm the White House,” writes Grier Raggio Jr. “But he feels that violent talk may force those in power to listen when modest petitions fall on deaf ears. . . . Despite his hot words about domestic colonialism and revolution, Cleaver basically hopes that social reform will be enough.” And the article concludes with an appeal that his “black voice” not be removed from the public scene. This and similar endorsements – for instance, the appearance of Soul On Ice on the N.Y. Times list of the 10 most important books of 1968 – ensure that Cleaver’s counter-revolutionary voice is heard wherever the U.S. imperialist media la attended to with respect.

As one of the misleading spokesmen for the ruling class among those who shares genuine sentiment for revolutionary social change, Cleaver and his masters have benefited greatly from his connection with the Black Panther Party. There is where the ruling class most needs conscious agents of reaction. Cleaver’s public pronouncements have always conveyed ominous undertones of reaction, but as the contradictions become more acute and the ruling class has been sharply challenged his statements have become more openly fascistic. His earliest explanation of man’s struggle was, of course, non-scientific, irrational and explicitly fascist in its stress on the sexual basis of sovereignty. It was also patently Freudian:

When the primeval sphere split into the male and female, hemispheres, the attribute of sovereignty was reposited in the male hemisphere, and this attribute exercises a magnetic attraction upon the female hemisphere. Usurping the super masculine menial’s mind, the omnipotent administrator usurped all sovereignty; and because of his monopoly on sovereignty he is the psychic bridegroom of the amazon. In another sense, however, being also attracted to the body of the super-masculine menial, the amazon is lost between two worlds.

This analysis needs only to be quoted to be exposed and it does not deserve any more consideration.

But Cleaver has another more serious fallacy, which he exploits constantly in the pages of Ramparts, in his own books, and most insidiously in the pages of the Black Panther weekly paper. This is the fascist policy of race war. Cleaver expresses it as a “warning” or a “danger,” but the race war is really his promise to his ruling class masters and the articulation of race war an expression of his faith in them. In his first book he reduces the problems of Afro-Americans to sexual ones and insists that “We shall have our manhood. We shall have it or the earth will be leveled by our attempts to gain it.” Many people attempt to discount many of Cleaver’s statements written in Soul On Ice with the explanation that he was not at that time a “Marxist-Leninist.” Some commentators claim to see a development and a serious maturation in Cleaver’s writings. What really occurs in his writings is a steady degeneration as the maturing contradictions of imperialist society elicit from him a constantly more reactionary response. What line does a consciously counter-revolutionary petty-bourgeois agent give as a member of a revolutionary party? He will solemnly, half-reluctantly, and with self-importance invoke the final solution of Race War. And this is just what Cleaver has done within the ranks of the Black Panther Party. In his Post-Prison Writings and Speeches (1969) he states:

If the white mother country is to have victory over the black colony, it is the duty of black revolution armies to insure that the Imperialists receive no more than a Pyrrhic victory, written in the blood of what America might have been.

He constantly invokes the fascist emphasis on the bloody and horrible aspect of revolution and calls for a revolution of gore, chaos, and anarchy. For instance, in his interview in Playboy magazine he speaks of “plunging America into the depths of its most desperate nightmare on the way to realizing the American Dream.” And he maligns the response of black Americans to the murder of Martin Luther King in 1968 by christening it a black race war:

That there is a holocaust coming I have no doubt at all. I have been talking to people around the country by telephone–people intimately involved in the black liberation struggle–and their reaction to Dr. King’s murder has been unanimous; the war has begun.

His predictions of a holocaust help the U.S. imperialists intensify their oppression of black and other minorities. In his articles and interviews, Cleaver constantly raises the issue of “race” in the abstract, and uses “anti-imperialist” rhetoric while refusing to indict the real enemy, U.S. imperialism, as the enemy of all the world’s people.

Since it is true that the black masses and the masses of white working people in the U.S. share common interests and have a common objective to struggle for, they will not themselves initiate a race war. Race war can only strengthen the dark fascist rule of the U.S. monopoly capitalist class. The struggle against racism in the United States is an organic part of the class struggle against U.S. imperialism. In his most important statement in support of the Afro-American people’s struggle against racial discrimination and exploitation in April 1968, Chairman Mao said:

Racial discrimination in the United States is a product of the colonialist and imperialist system. The contradiction between the black masses in the U.S. and the U.S. ruling circles is a class contradiction. Only by overthrowing the reactionary rule of the U.S. monopoly capitalist class and destroying the colonialist and imperialist system can the black people in the United States win complete emancipation.

The entire effort of agents of U.S. imperialism like Cleaver is to subvert black struggles from within by attempting to convert these class struggles against U.S. imperialist exploitation into a race war against wicked and all-powerful white “Babylon.” It is a sign of the revolutionary spirit of the black masses that they have not allowed themselves to be deceived by the opportunism and treachery of “revolutionaries” like Eldridge Cleaver. Black people make a sharp distinction between revolutionaries and counter-revolutionary misleaders. They distinguish clearly between leaders who serve the people and traitors who serve U.S. imperialism.